"This famous linguist once said that of all the phrases in the English language, of all the endless combinations of words in all of history, 'cellar door' is the most beautiful." You might remember Drew Barrymore saying this in Donnie Darko. The linguist is probably Cyrus Lauron Hooper, who reckoned the compound-noun was beautiful on its own, regardless of what it meant.
“The cellar door is traditionally a way for the consumer to go, and not only peer into the winery, but also buy the wine,” says Alex Retief, the owner of Urban Winery in Sydney. He’s optimistic about winemakers increasingly bringing their showrooms to the city. “I can’t put my finger on why it hasn’t happened sooner,” he says. “You get a lot of craft breweries around Sydney and a winery isn’t dissimilar. So why not have more in the city?”
There is a lot to be said for the experience of the cellar door. The opportunity to try different wines and hear about the process directly from the people who make it is a valuable asset when deciding what to buy.
An abundance of incredible wine country is just a stone’s throw from Sydney. Rolling hills, green pastures as far as the eye can see, and some of the country’s best producers make a pretty enticing excuse to get out of the city for the weekend.
But there’s also some great offerings right here on our doorstep.
Here’s our pick of the best cellar doors both at home and away.
When Alex Retief and his wife Jemima got married, deciding where they would live was a bit of a sore point. Alex was a country boy from the Hunter Valley and Jemima’s life was here in Sydney. They struck an amazing compromise and decided they would both move … to Bordeaux. Alex spent two years running a winery on the banks of the Garonne before returning to Sydney to ply his trade.
Urban Winery Sydney is the result of his innovative approach to bringing the cellar door to the big smoke. It’s Australia’s most comprehensive city-based operation. In Precinct 75, alongside other artisan producers, Urban Winery plays host to the entire winemaking process of Alex’s label, A.Retief. His 2017 vintage pinot noir, made with grapes from Tumbarumba, is the label’s first pinot and is a standout.
Cake Wines Cellar Door
Transplanting the cellar door concept to the city can be as tricky as it is radical. Cake Wines Cellar Door’s solution is a simple one: make it a wine bar. It’s pouring a full range of its own wines in a refurbished warehouse on Everleigh Street in Redfern and it’s anything but traditional.
Head winemaker Sarah Burvill cultivates an impressive selection of wines from McLaren Vale and Adelaide Hills, where she developed her passion for pressing grapes on her father’s vineyard. The space also offers informal wine-education evenings, hourly tastings, live acts and DJs.
Handpicked Cellar Door
With wineries in Mornington, Yarra Valley, Margeret River, Barossa Valley, Tasmania, Central Otago and Italy, this cellar door on Kensington Street in Chippendale nails it. The high-ceiling brick warehouse has a long history in the booze trade, starting life as the original Carlton & United brewery. Handpicked Cellar Door provides a three-tiered offering, simplifying the art of wine buying in a way that helps punters know what to drink, and what to store in a cellar for special occasions.
Out of town
Anybody fortunate enough to drink a glass of this label’s 2015 shiraz viogner will tell you, without hesitation, this is one cellar door you must not overlook. Tim Kirk has run the winery, just outside of Canberra, since 1996. Under his watch, Clonakilla has earned itself a reputation around the world for producing some of Australia’s best wine. Kirk oversaw the construction of a brand-new cellar door in March last year. Built from local stone, reclaimed timber and deconstructed barrels, the room overlooks the winery’s vineyards and is an expression of Kirk’s commitment to excellence.
Philip Shaw Wines
The genesis story of this Koomooloo vineyard is a testament to the instinct of its founder. While flying across Australia in 1988, Philip Shaw – a winemaker with almost 20 years of experience at the time – spotted a beautiful rolling hillside out the window. He returned a week later and discovered that the slice of Orange land had everything he was looking for in a vineyard. The rest, as they say, is history. Today, the winery is run by his sons Daniel and Damian. They continue to temper the region’s best fruits with ruthless attention to detail. This is another pioneering winery with a new cellar door.
At high altitudes, the temperature tapers off into cool afternoons and evenings and the mist settles in. This is called a “diurnal shift” and has a huge effect on the flavour of your wine. It preserves the malic acid of the fruit, which is responsible for the delicious, balanced acidity and brightness that Tertini Wines in the Southern Highlands is famous for. Be sure to try the riesling, bursting with citric acidity with a clean, dry finish providing the ballast.
This biodynamic farm just north of Bungendore is another world-beater NSW can be proud of. Sue and Dave Carpenter established Lark Hill in 1978. Their son Chris is now the director and chief winemaker. The cooler climate of this high-altitude winery lends itself particularly well to riesling as well as the notoriously fickle grüner veltliner variety, which flourishes in Eastern Europe and in particular, Austria. Lark Hill’s veltliner – known for its spice and minerality – has received international acclaim, beating more traditional Austrian offerings for recognition. Tastings are conducted Wednesday to Monday. There is a $5 charge per person, which is refunded on the purchase of a bottle. Expect to get that refund, if you know what we mean.